Murder with a smile

Turning that frown upside-down

If this doesn’t spook you just a little, well… you’re not easily spooked:

Retired NYPD detectives Anthony Duarte and Kevin Gannon held a press conference in 2008 to make the public aware of a dozens of deaths that are officially listed as accidental drownings, deaths that the two former cops allege are actually murders linked to one another. “I believe we’re looking at an organized group that has a hierarchy and is involved in murder and other criminal activity,” Gannon said. Such a revelation would, if true, re-write a large portion of what we think we know about criminology. Experts would tell us that serial killers don’t work together in teams, in fact in extremely rare instances we have only seen them work in pairs.

I read the full article on a day when the paywall was down. Unfortunately, it’s back up. Anyway, the Zebra murders that gripped San Francisco in 1973-74 are proof that semi-clandestine, murderous cults can exist, although the alleged Smiley Face Killers would appear to be a (big) step up from anything we’ve seen before in terms of both secrecy and competence.

The author’s hypothesis that the arrival of the internet explains why the Smiley Face Killings began in earnest around 1997 is interesting and reminded me of this essay from 10 years ago about the rise of anonymous group suicide in Japan.

The most spectacular manifestation of Japan’s exploding suicide culture, Internet group suicide, is unique in that it is rooted in the technologies of the computer age and has no meaningful precedent in traditional Japanese social behavior.

Given its role in fostering a wide variety of social pathologies, some of which seem entirely capable of destroying civilization, I would argue that the jury is still out on whether the invention of the internet was overall a Good Thing for humanity.

They are not amused

One of the noteworthy aspects of the viral outrage over the recent involuntary deplaning incident on the United Airlines flight (see here) is the Chinese reaction. From Jeffrey Towson, Professor at Peking University and author of the excellent The One Hour China Book:

  • The video was viewed online between 200-300M times in China.
  • It resulted in over a 100,000 comments, most all negative.
  • It became the top trending story on Weibo.
  • Petitions calling for a boycott of United Airlines went viral on Wechat.
  • Chinese media jumped in and it became a top news story everywhere in China. The People’s Daily ran photos of the man’s bloodied face and openly criticized the airline.
  • Prominent Chinese began lambasting the company. JD.com CEO Richard Liu said “…United is the worst airline, not one of the worst.”

[…] What we can conclude is that United Airlines was caught by surprise. Yet another multinational has suddenly realized that not only are Chinese consumers a big economic phenomenon, they are also a demographic that is paying close attention. This huge middle class is watching and listening all the time. They know what happens in the USA and can react within minutes. And this is not limited just to famous companies like United and KFC. If you have a bed and breakfast in Vermont, I guarantee you there are Chinese reviews and discussions about your hotel.

The combination of the growing economic power of Chinese middle-class consumers, and the instant worldwide spasms of attention (either positive or negative) that social media can generate, will prove rather disruptive to many businesses in the coming years.

Could China take over the internet?

Epoch Times thinks so:

In November 2014, Li Yuxiao, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Cyberspace, stated, according to the state-run China Daily: “Now is the time for China to realize its responsibilities. If the United States is willing to give up its running of the internet sphere, the question comes as to who will take the baton and how it would be run.

“We have to first set our goal in cyberspace, and then think about the strategy to take, before moving on to refining our laws,” he said.

Li is now the head of a department designed to enforce the Chinese regime’s laws on technology companies. His comments are tied to a process announced by the United States in 2014 to relinquish control of the internet by ending the contract between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

This process is now nearing its completion, with a deadline of Oct. 1.

US News has a good article spelling out some of the practical implications of the US government ceding control of the core technical functions of the internet:

Additionally, while it is true ICANN has not played a direct censorship role in other countries, there is the potential for future problems. Currently, a number of countries – including Russia and China – have the power to restrict access to specific websites within their territorial borders, but cannot do so globally. But what if these authoritarian regimes, via their positions on the GAC [Governmental Advisory Committee], gained a consensus and proposed to the ICANN board that no explicitly anti-government website domain name (for example, www.stopthePRC.com) can be created because it could have domestic security implications? The special advisory power of the GAC states that even overruled proposals must “attempt to reach a mutually acceptable solution,” so a watered-down version of any censorship initiative could still be enacted after initial rejection by the board.

Similarly, what if the Chinese government had the power to pressure ICANN board members to edit the internet address book and remove a website that might be troublesome for its leadership? That sort of broad and egregious censorship cannot occur under U.S. stewardship today.

Second, although difficult to accomplish, after the transition it is possible for ICANN’s bylaws to be changed, which would allow anything from a change in location to a change in functioning – and the U.S. would no longer have any regulatory power to prevent it. Additionally, if ICANN moved to Switzerland, as has been proposed, it would no longer be a California corporation and might fall outside the jurisdiction of impartial American courts.

It is not at all clear to me how the global internet will be “better off” under the stewardship of a collection of hundreds of national governments, corporations, and advocacy groups, than under the US Department of Commerce. It’s even less clear how changing the status quo would serve American interests. The only real benefit seems to be positive PR; according to The Wall Street Journal in 2014:

So why is this happening? Couldn’t they just leave things the way they were? The main goal is to reassure other countries that the U.S. isn’t secretly controlling the structure of the Internet. To the extent American businesses have been damaged by the Edward Snowden disclosures, especially those offering cloud and other online services, this is a move aimed at repairing the relationship between the U.S. and other countries on Internet issues.

Make no mistake, this is a concession by the U.S. While the Commerce Department rarely intervened publicly in ICANN’s affairs, the implicit threat of its ability to do so will be gone.

“Reassuring other countries,” while desirable in itself, doesn’t strike me as a compelling enough reason for the US to irrevocably give up the keys to the global internet.